Captured songbirds are then sold to a collector—the middleman facilitating the trade—who places them in cardboard or plastic boxes with holes to take it to the main trader. At this point, any straw-headed bulbuls that were poached might be among an array of species being boxed and stacked for transportation.
Can the species be legally taken across an international border, from Sabah in Malaysia, to North Kalimantan in Indonesia? The international trade in wild animals and plants is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). It is an international agreement between governments and ensures that trade does not threaten the survival of flora and fauna, and that they get the protection they need.
Under CITES, species like this one listed under Appendix II are not considered to be threatened with extinction but trade regulation is important to avoid demand that threatens their survival. To trade in straw-headed bulbuls, people need an export permit or a re-export certificate.
The species is also protected across Malaysia through various forms of legislation that have been enacted between 1997 and 2010. As a result, no one can capture, trade, or possess the bird without a license or permit. Additionally, no imports of straw-headed bulbuls have been reported in Indonesia since 1999. This means the capture and international movement of these songbirds is already in violation of national legislation and CITES regulations. They are not being traded. They are being smuggled.
The species is more vulnerable in Indonesia. Added to a national list of protected species as part of a sweeping update in 2018, the straw-headed bulbul and two other threatened songbird species were removed from that list within three months when songbird keepers and traders protested. But there is a nationwide zero-quota for harvest from the wild of straw-headed bulbuls. That means that trading wild-caught songbirds of this species is in violation of Indonesia’s quota policy.
Across Asia, smugglers devise various methods to avoid detection. Birds are stuffed in plastic bottles or PVC pipes. They are put in unlabelled boxes, in bags made of cement paper or stuffed into clothing and pants. In one instance, smugglers at sea chose to drown 300 songbirds to escape capture by the authorities. In July 2018, in Cilegon, West Java, quarantine officials confiscated 6000 birds being smuggled to Sumatra. An inspection revealed that 2000 of those birds were dead.